L. Caruana 2002
50 x 80 cm, oil & varnish on wood
I was living in Malta at the time, while M. remained in her native Holland. Still, within nine days of meeting each other, she and I became engaged. We wasted no time in tearing through each other’s lives. Each visit became an extended journey into ourselves, exposing all our hidden dreams, hopes, desires, and illusions. But, unexpectedly, we each discovered in the other the seeds of madness. In particular, she suffered from hallucinations – the Devil appearing unbidden at strange moments. Finally, M. disappeared, leaving no trace of her whereabouts.
That event triggered one of the strangest occurences in my life: I went insane. Isolated in an old Maltese house, I endured explosions of emotion, tormented myself with thoughts of suicide, and experienced the most bizarre of hallucinations. At a real low point, her Devil emerged from under the stairs and handed me the knife with which I was to slit my wrist…
When I thought of portraying M., those events came flashing back through my memory. I also remembered how, years later in Alsace, I saw a mediaeval sculpture of Ste. Marguerite with a cruciform spear in hand, trampling a dragon underfoot. That image resonated deeply with me, and sent me back to Jacobus de Voragine’s Golden Legend, with his mediaeval account of the life of Ste. Marguerite. Here I learned that the Devil appeared repeatedly to Ste. Marguerite during her life: once as an attractive young man who she brought down by force; once as a dragon that swallowed her whole until she cut her way out of its belly with a crucifix. Jacobus further explained that: “…the name Marguerite is also the name of a precious jewel called margarita – pearl – which is shining white, small, and powerful.”
In the upper portion of my painting, I’ve reconstructed that mediaval Alsacian sculpture from memory, as well as the Devil that Ste. Marguerite brought down with her spear. The story of her descent into the belly of the dragon, meanwhile, is represented in the lower portion of the painting. Its imagery is derived from my own bizarre hallucinations of the Devil. But, since these hallucinations had a strange Aztec quality about them, my vision of the Underworld has been expanded by many existing Aztec and Mayan sculptures. That imagery may be explored further through the link Enter the Underworld.
Somehow, I survived my underworld journey through temporary insanity. So did M., as I learned when – ten years later – she re-established contact. She had that rare quality – a remembrance of childhood innocence and understanding – which allowed her to endure all of life’s later torments. That quality is something which I’ve tried to represent by the pearl – pure, white, and perfect, but formed in the belly of an undersea creature.
In my painting, M. emerges from the underworld with the pearl in hand. The pearl is brilliant white – but not entirely free of the hellish Mayan imagery reflected from below. And the two-headed Aztec sky-dragon, meanwhile, is trying to devour it once more. Meaning… that the underworld journey leaves it mark upon us, and we live on with the fearful knowledge that madness may swallow us once more…